This month, I didn’t even have to leave my block to interview “new kid” Nyssa Frank. She is owner of The Living Gallery, an alternative art space and community outreach venue located in Brooklyn. Frank, who hunkered down in Bushwick four years ago, has been working with local parents and teachers to cover cracks left by recent budget cuts to public schools in the neighborhood. The Living Gallery hosts a variety of regular events and classes, from drawing to drama to cooking. The Living Gallery will remain at its current location on Flushing Avenue until this coming April; Frank is currently searching for a new storefront in Bushwick.
Name: Nyssa means the goal and the beginning in Greek
Date of birth: December 15, 1984
Favorite color: Blue
Favorite band: Cum Blood
Favorite artist: Wassily Kandinsky
Last dream: “Ummmm, something involving my kitten, I’m sure.”
The following interview took place over Google Chat on December 28, 2012.
Jacquelyn Gleisner: How did you end up here in Brooklyn?
Nyssa Frank: I had to leave the East Coast to realize that this is where I want to be. I went to school in California, then traveled all over and lived abroad. Finally, I realized that I wanted to be closer to my family. I heard great things about Brooklyn, so I tried it out and fell in love.
JG: How long have you been in Bushwick?
NF: Four years.
JG: When did you open The Living Gallery?
NF: April 1, 2012.
JG: April Fools’ Day! That’s a funny day to open an art space.
NF: Yeah, it was the first day on my lease and I was too excited to wait. So, I had my first opening [for the show] Born.
JG: What motivated you to open a gallery?
NF: I had wanted to open more of an art collective, a community center, where artists don’t compete but support and celebrate each other. I wanted to have an entire building with all different art forms, including a cafe on the ground floor with live music and shows and plays. Opening The Living Gallery seemed like the first step to making that dream come true.
JG: What do you think a space like The Living Gallery contributes to a community?
NF: It’s a platform. The gallery does not rely on art sales for income–we have classes and rent out the space. This takes the pressure off the art and the artists to generate a profit and it allows us to have openings with children’s art and other unknown or emerging artists. We aim to celebrate everyone and create a place where anything is possible. For example, we are working with a local mother who is Puerto Rican. She owns
Jazzabelss Boutique. She has a son who goes to a local school and came to me asking for inexpensive drama classes for kids–that class is now starting in January! We also offer free classes for kids who get a scholarship through Uproar Art, a non-profit.
JG: Why do you think it’s important for kids to take art classes?
NF: I think that kids should have the opportunity to take classes. The local school I have been talking with has one art teacher and it’s a big school. They used to have drama, chorus, dance, etc. but there were budget cuts and only one teacher stuck.
JG: I think I read somewhere that you worked at a gallery in Manhattan. Is that true?
NF: Yeah, I was the co-founder of Damon Dash’s art gallery–the Dash Gallery. It was in Tribeca. Now it is in the Lower East Side and is called Poppington Gallery.
JG: Are you some sort of artist yourself? How did you end up starting art galleries?
NF: I paint and draw and I’m also the singer/screamer in Cum Blood, a band. My mother is an artist. I was more interested in philosophy until I went to Sri Lanka and worked with a non-profit for kids, teaching them art. The experience changed my life.
JG: Tell me more! What happened?
NF: I went to Sri Lanka with an organization called Help Lanka. We were working with tsunami victims and orphans. I did art projects with them even though I couldn’t speak Sinhalese; it was amazing. When I came back to America, I wanted to be more involved with kids and art.
JG: What kind of art projects?
NF: I asked the kids what they thought peace was and they painted or drew that–the world, holding hands, hearts, and some actually wrote things like “Art is peace.” It was mind blowing. While I was there, I organized an exhibition of most of the artwork for the community. I had to mount and label over 100 drawings!
JG: Whoa! What did the community think of the exhibition?
NF: They loved everything. There was a lot of dancing. Sadly, I was only there a month. I feel like in order to make a lasting impact, I should have been there longer.
JG: But one month was long enough to change your life so maybe it changed their lives, too.
NF: Hah, yes!
JG: Anything can happen. Stranger things have happened in a month.
NF: Very true.JG: So, then you came back to the United States, settled in Brooklyn and started a gallery?
NF: Yeah, it took some time, but yeah.
JG: In a perfect world, what happens next?
NF: I find a great new space, a storefront, that’s accessible [and where we’ll do] live music. We move and continue what The Living Gallery is doing on a larger and broader scale!
JG: How do artists fit into this vision? What do you think an artist’s role is within a community? And greater society?
NF: To put it simply, artists should add beauty or illuminate the beauty that already exists around us. Also, artists should create a conversation, be it visual or auditory. Communication is key in any relationship, especially in the relationship between a person and a society. Art is a form of language or language is a form of art.
JG: You’re exposing your philosophy roots.
NF: Yeah, I was a philosophy major.
JG: Do you have a favorite philosopher?
NF: No, but these are my top three: Hume, Heidegger, Kant.
JG: I share a birthday with Heidegger. Kant and Hume–those dudes were also, kind of, into beauty, right?
NF: Heh, I got interested in those guys when I started reading about skepticism.
JG: Please expound.
NF: Skepticism about the external world…”Is this all a dream…?”
JG: Do you think it is all a dream?
NF: I think it doesn’t matter. If it is a dream, then that’s what it is. If not, then it is not. It doesn’t change anything in the end.